After years of hearing calls for help, school leaders turned the education spotlight Wednesday to Wendell and Zebulon, where a new effort has started to help the high-poverty schools in these eastern Wake communities.
The East Wake Education Work Group held its first meeting as it works to develop recommendations, by this summer, for improving student achievement in the schools in Wendell and Zebulon. The new 80-member group is patterned after a similar effort by the Wake County school system that has led to new programs to help schools in Knightdale, also in eastern Wake.
“We have together tonight parents, businesses, civic organizations, faith and community leaders to work together to plan for the future of the Wendell and Zebulon areas,” said Ed McFarland, area superintendent for eastern Wake, at Wednesday’s meeting at East Wake High School.
Wednesday’s meeting is a response to long-standing pleas from leaders in eastern Wake for more help for their schools. On average, the towns’ schools have higher concentrations of poverty and lower test scores than the rest of the school system.
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In 2013, Wake school leaders met with the eastern Wake mayors to talk about what could be done to help the region. They agreed to start in Knightdale.
“We knew we needed to get started somewhere and the mayors pretty much agreed, ‘Pick one and start and then let’s see how it works and then we can replicate as we go,’ ” Superintendent Jim Merrill told the Wake County Board of Commissioners Monday.
The first meeting of the Knightdale Area Education Work Group was in October 2013. After many meetings and recommendations, new academic programs are starting, such as the redesign of Knightdale High School and the creation of a magnet school program at Hodge Road Elementary School.
As the focus intensifies on Wendell and Zebulon, school officials shared with the group the academic challenges that area schools face.
While elementary schools here are performing at 14 percentage points below the county average on state exams, the gap widens to 27 percentage points in high school. A smaller percentage of East Wake high-school students goes on to college and stays there.
On Tuesday, the school board voted to consolidate East Wake High, from four small schools back into one comprehensive high school. The district will develop a new academic design for the school.
On a positive note, the growth rate on state exams for area schools is nearly at the district average. Growth measures how much academic progress students at a school make even if they don’t pass exams.
School board Vice Chairman Tom Benton, a resident of Zebulon, said the group needs to take advantage of the opportunity it has to make a difference in area schools.
“Tonight is the beginning of pursuing a dream,” he said.
Hui: 919-829-4534; Twitter: @nckhui